101 ThingsAn Author Needs to Know
About the Police and the Law
What is hearsay?
Hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the person speaking while testifying at trial or a hearing, offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. It is sometimes a difficult principle to follow.
Let me give you an example. Martha Rogers is testifying about a fight she and Jane got into. It might go like this:
Q: Tell us, Ms. Rogers, how did the fight start?
A: Well, Jane came over to my house and told me that Jim saw my husband out with another woman.
DEFENSE: Objection, Your Honor, hearsay.
This is really double hearsay. Martha is testifying what Jim said to Jane. Martha Rogers can’t testify about what someone else said or heard or saw. She can only testify about things she herself said, heard, or saw. Yes, it is true that she heard Jane say it, but to get Jane’s statements into evidence, the state must call Jane as a witness and ask her about what she said. The attorney for the state has to try to elicit what happened without getting into third party statements. Not an easy task. Attorneys have meetings with witnesses before they get on the stand to let them know what can be said and what not to say.
More likely it would go like this:
Q: Tell us, Mr. Rogers, how did the fight start?
A: Well, Jane came over to my house and started making comments about my husband.
Q: And did that make you angry?
A: Yes. Very.
Q: So what did you do when you became angry with Jane?
A: I told her to get out of my house. She was standing in my doorway, so I pushed her out the door.
Q: And what happened next?:
A: She slapped me. That’s when I lost it and went after her.
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about hearsay. People commonly believe that you cannot be convicted based on hearsay. That's not true. Hearsay evidence is often excluded, but if it meets an exception, of which many exist, it may be admissible and used to convict you.People also believe that hearsay only applies to what other people say. In fact, hearsay applies to everyone, as long as they are not under oath.